Charity begins

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
Boring speeches, drunkenness, and a shooting: it's the end of year party

It's the last day of my first year as a teacher and I'm celebrating with a plastic cup full of Lambrusco. The staff party has deteriorated somewhat.

Tiziana Fausti, our media supply babe, is draped over the broad shoulders of Mick, the Aussie chemistry teacher. Through her slurred sobs I can just make out something about the torment of being a gay man trapped in a woman's body.

Outside by the wheelie bins, I can see Orlando Jones, head of drama, canoodling with Sandy McSniff, my mentor and Orlando's occasional "fling friend". Then there is the pitiful sight of Nigel Horsmel, until last week acting head of St Brian's, who is slumped in the staffroom armchair, cradling a bottle of Sainsbury's vin de pays with one hand and dabbing at red stains on his chinos with the other. I find it hard to feel sorry for the man who scuppered my move to the posh school across town by telling the head I was a convicted child molester.

Horsmel looks on miserably as Alastair Scarlett, the headteacher, who has returned in triumph after six months in rehab, holds court to a group of fawning admin staff. They all nod dutifully as Scarlett enthuses about regressive therapy and his former life as a mountain pony in Nepal.

Horsmel is interrupted by John Baller tapping on a glass with his pen and asking us to give good order. Baller, ex-army and the LEA's behaviour management guru, says it's time to say goodbye to a St Brian's institution, Cynthia Thyme, who at the age of 59 has shocked everyone by getting a new job. Admittedly it's as a needlework teacher in Colombia, but the main thing is that she's managed to get out. Baller's speech consists of a series of terrible puns about being stitched up, losing one's thread, getting the needle, etc, etc, and we're just willing him to wind up when his breast pocket starts making a loud crackling noise.

Baller yanks out a walkie-talkie and we hear the faint but unmistakable voice of Roy Striper, the caretaker. "We've got a breakout, Sir," says Roy, frantically. "It's the behaviour unit - they've breached the perimeter!"

Baller's face drains. "Copy you, Roy. But how? That door's made of three-inch steel, and what about the dogs? Over."

Roy again. "Gabriel Mooney, Sir, the RE teacher, he let them out. And he's drugged the dogs. Over."

"Look!" someone shouts, pointing at the science lab roof. "It's Mooney."

Gabriel, a regular at occupational health since he was overheard discussing his visions with Year 7, is hopping around at the edge of the roof, surrounded by a group of referral unit lifers brandishing glass beakers from the lab. Gabriel holds up a megaphone and starts to bellow. "We've got enough mutant fruit flies here to poison the human gene pool for centuries, Scarlett! The final battle has begun, and my army is ready!"

Baller's radio crackles again. "John, I've got him in my sights. It's a clean head shot. Shall I take him down?" Roy has scaled the roof armed with the airgun he uses to dispose of rats in the school kitchen. Baller looks at Scarlett, who nods.

Later, as the ambulance carts Gabriel off to the madhouse via Aamp;E, and the referral unit escapees are rounded up, I recall the words of my PGCE tutor:

"It can be a hard job, but you'll see things and have experiences that will stay with you forever." I certainly won't forget my first year at St Brian's.

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